By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
"To everyone who is here, if we would have had weapons, this would not have happened." -- Lazaro Gonzalez, addressing a crowd of supporters outside his house following the removal of Elian
Now that el exilio has ended its attacks on Miami's beleaguered tires, newspaper vending machines, and Dumpsters, the only question is: What's next? The local mainstream media has been joined by a chorus of elected officials in calling for "dialogue," "healing," and "building bridges" between aggrieved communities. Frankly such talk is asinine; returning to the pre-Elian status quo does no one any good -- except of course, those who seek to keep the city's political and cultural life under the thumb of rightist Cuban exiles.
Bishop Victor Curry, head of Miami's NAACP chapter and a rare voice of unvarnished truth of late, summed up the current state of affairs during WPLG-TV's (Channel 10) April 26 "town-hall meeting." After listening to fellow panelist Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas deliver a string of pieties to the greatness of diversity, and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle salute exile tire burnings as something we should be "proud of," Curry had heard enough. He explained that had it been Miami's black community that was setting fires and running amok, and not Cubans, commentators would have been quick to brand blacks as "animals" engaged in a riot, instead of making apologies for a saddened ethnic group engaged in a civil disturbance. "When you're in power, it's easy to overlook racism and just say we're a diverse community," Curry said bitterly. "We're not going to build bridges. The bridge is burnt....The problem is we are in denial. We paint it over. We cover it with niceties like 'We are [a diverse community of] 156 different languages.'"
The next move for disgusted Miamians, then, isn't to waste any more time breaking bread with Cuban-exile leaders, but to take decisive actions to finally free this city from the grip of the last remaining Cold War holdouts. Ending the nonsensical trade embargo against Cuba would be a welcome first step, whether or not you agree with Kulchur that such a move and its resultant flood of foreign influence would do more to bring down Fidel Castro than any amount of flag waving in Miami. Certainly if we can normalize relations with dictatorial regimes such as China and Vietnam (a nation, lest we forget, with which we were once openly at war, an example that surely dwarfs the legacy of the on-again, off-again CIA shenanigans and proxy soldiers we've thrown at Fidel), we can do the same with Cuba.
From a national perspective, the outlook for tossing the embargo aside looks rosy. Public-opinion polls conclusively show overwhelming support for such a move. Moreover, in 1999 alone, nearly 200,000 Americans voted with their feet, visiting Cuba in spite of travel bans to the island. And the details of the INS raid on Lazaro Gonzalez's Little Havana home demonstrate that the federal government is listening to this groundswell. By 2:30 that fateful morning, a sizable contingent of Miami police officers had fully cordoned off the eastbound side of the MacArthur Causeway, providing a safe getaway route to a helicopter on Watson Island for the federal agents returning Elian to his father. At least three hours before authorities first knocked on Lazaro's front door, word of said raid's imminence had been dispatched throughout a significant chunk of the Miami Police Department. Yet no call was put in to either Miami Mayor Joe Carollo or Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas. The implication is obvious: Had they been so alerted, either official would have tipped off exile leaders (and by extension, Spanish-language radio), thus sparking a mass mobilization of protesters around the Gonzalez house. But the deeper meaning here shouldn't be lost on anyone. In the eyes of Washington, D.C., there is no longer any difference between street thugs such as Vigilia Mambísa's Miguel Saavedra or the Movimiento Democracia's Ramon Raul Sanchez and supposedly responsible elected Cuban-American officials like Penelas and Carollo. Consider that it was only this past fall that Penelas's name was being bandied about the beltway as a serious contender for the Democratic Party's vice-presidential slot alongside Al Gore. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Of course all of this is the perspective from outside Miami. Back here in the (ahem) Magic City, the prospects for positive social change seem downright gloomy. There is a terrific amount of reactionary energy within the Cuban-exile community right now, particularly among a younger generation that had previously shown little enthusiasm for la causa. Yet few of these new recruits show any interest in the established exile organizations or their philosophies. Indeed the leadership of such groups was practically invisible in the streets of Little Havana two Saturdays ago; even when they did surface, it made little impact. As Kulchur threaded his way through the afternoon demonstrators that blocked off Seventeenth Avenue at Flagler Street that day, a bellowing eighteen-wheeler horn blast rang out. A cluster of police looked on tensely as a Mack truck roared into view. On its back stood a group of Alpha 66 members, vigorously waving its outfit's flag and haranguing the crowd through a megaphone. Yet none of the demonstrators paid it any mind at all.